A disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, botulism is most often associated with food poisoning. The bacteria, which die in the presence of oxygen, thrive in closed bottles and cans. The bacterium's characteristics make purification of foods difficult because it forms spores which are resistant to high temperatures such as those generated by boiling. When the spores reach a favorable environment, they become bacteria. Botulism can also occur if the bacteria infects an open wound.
Symptoms of botulism are indirectly related to the bacteria; the real culprit is botulinum toxin, a waste product that the bacteria produce. Botulinum toxin, which interferes with the central nervous system, is one of the most lethal substances known. Because of its effects, small amounts of the toxin, called Botox injections, have been used to relax muscles. The toxin, in aerosol form, has also been named a potential biological weapon.
Botulism symptoms can appear up to three days after exposure to the bacteria or its toxin. Sometimes, symptoms will appear in less than eight hours. These may include:
If you suspect you have symptoms of botulism, see a doctor immediately.
An antitoxin can be used to treat the disease if symptoms are caught early. Treatment usually includes hospitalization to assist with respiratory difficulties. Botulism survivors may experience nerve problems up to one year after the disease has been treated.
Battle food-borne botulism by throwing out misshapen cans, jars with misshapen lids or broken seals (if never used), and preserves or canned foods that look or smell less than fresh. Do nottaste food items that you suspect are spoiled-only a small amount of toxin can lead to the disease.
Infants and small children are at an increased risk because their intestinal tracts cannot process the bacteria. As a result, it can grow unchecked, leading to disease. For this reason, do not give a child raw honey or corn syrup, both of which can contain the bacteria.
Be particularly cautious if you can preserves or other foods at home. The only way to kill botulinum spores is to use a pressure cooker, and heat foods to at least 250F for 30 minutes before canning.